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Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Setting up a buddy bench to foster friendships in the elementary school playground is just such an idea. Even better, the idea comes from a student. Second-grader Christian Bucks of York, Pennsylvania stood up for friendships at his school by suggesting that lonely kids sit down — on the buddy bench, that is.

A Buddy Bench is Born

In May 2013, Christian stumbled upon the idea while looking over photos at an international school in Germany after his father mentioned the possibility of an overseas assignment. Christian immediately knew that the colorful buddy bench was just the thing to make Roundtown Elementary School’s playground a friendlier place during school recess.

“He thought this was a great way to help other kids who might feel lonely or left out from time to time,” his mom, Alyson Bucks, told the York Daily Record. Fortunately, Roundtown Elementary School supports a responsive classroom culture where children feel comfortable sharing ideas in all-school meetings, so Christian brought his idea forward. His teacher and principal Matthew Miller not only agreed with Christian, but the school ordered a buddy bench right away and Christian was asked to choose its style and color.

Buddy Benches Foster Friendship

How does it work? A buddy bench is the non-verbal way for youngsters to reach out for inclusion and kindness. In Christian’s own words,”You go to the buddy bench and the idea is that someone will come and ask if you want to play or talk.” The hope is that no one will ever sit on the buddy bench for long.

This 8-year-old boy’s connection between mind and heart created a beautiful way to combat bullying and loneliness that resonates with people of all ages. Christian’s cure for playground exclusion struck such a chord with everyone, it eventually received nationwide media coverage.

Building More Buddy Benches  

Christian’s Buddy Bench idea has its own Facebook page and Miller says he has received “a flood of correspondence” from head teachers in 32 states who are thinking of installing one at their schools. Buddy benches have been spreading kindness, standing as dedications to well-loved retiring teachers, as memorials to students after tragedy strikes and as gifts from generous donors.

At Hoover School in Dubuque, Iowa, 8-year-old Clare credits Christian’s idea for her launch of “Clare Cares.” Clare worked hard to get her local cast iron, lumber and hardware stores to donate resources to build her school’s first buddy bench. The idea has enjoyed such strong community support that enough money was raised to buy a buddy bench for every school in that district, according to principal Kathleen Walech-Haas.

Buddy Benches Create Kind Communities

Examples of older children pitching in on behalf of the younger ones strengthens the broader community. In Bellevue, Washington, three Girls Scouts from Troop 53066 decided on a new buddy bench to earn their Silver Awards. They began with a donated bench, the creation of a video, a Kindness Week to highlight the project, and finally ended up with 570 student volunteers who all wanted a hand in turning a regular bench into a blue buddy bench featuring a rising sun motif. The plaque on Sunset Elementary School’s new buddy bench reads:”Kindness is Contagious.”

In a high school welding class in Sulphur, Oklahoma, three students turned out a handcrafted buddy bench for the Oklahoma School for the Deaf. A plaque is dedicated to those three teens.

Community involvement and school-wide education about the purpose of the buddy bench are key to its success. However, a buddy bench need not be built from scratch. Some schools are brightening up an existing bench with a coat of paint to give it a pop of color, adding a sign and moving it to the playground.

This article was written by Laurie Jo Miller Farr via Examiner.com for CBS Local Media.